Michael Kownacky

Program Host

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.

You can also hear Michael, along with his The Dress Circle co-host, on JazzOn2, every Wednesday evening from 7pm, eastern, for Strike Up the Band, a program celebrating the big bands and dance bands of jazz.

Ways to Connect

We’re going to the United Kingdom for this week’s Sunday Opera (3/24 3:00 p.m.) with two operas about plucky young ladies.  First will be Ireland’s Michael William Balfe’s charming “Bohemian Girl” which deals with a stolen child raised by gypsies who falls in love with an exiled Polish nobleman, and it all comes out right in the third act.   The cast includes Nora Thomas, Patrick Power, Jonathan Summers, Bernadette Cullen, and John del Carlo with Richard Bonynge leading the Irish Radio and Television Philharmonic Choir and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland.  

We’ll be enjoying more fruits from the age of the CD on this week’s Dress Circle (3/24 7:00 p.m.) as we sample recordings made by composers and lyricists of their own works.  Many of these recordings were demos or examples of works in progress that they wanted to share with absent partners; some are from public performances, and the results are wonderfully variable.  Some of those professionals include Stephen Sondheim, Cy Coleman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Johnny Mercer, Harold Rome, Frank Loesser, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, and Hoagy Carmichael just to name a few.  

It’s a bit of the less familiar on this week’s Dress Circle (3/17 7:00 p.m.) as we look at some of the recordings released by producer Ben Bagley as part of his “Revisited” series.  You’ll know the composers and lyricists such as Noel Coward, Burton Lane, Kurt Weill, Maxwell Anderson, Frank Loesser, Richard Rodgers, and Lorenz Hart, but you may not know some of the songs from shows like “The Garrick Gaities,” “Calling All Stars,” “Huckleberry Finn,” “Senor Discretion Himself,” and “Good Morning Dearie.” 

We’ll turn to a classic recording of a much loved opera on this week’s Sunday Opera (3/17 3:00 p.m.) and a 1958 recording of Giacomo Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West” featuring a stellar cast that truly doesn’t get enough air play today.  Minnie, the “girl” of the title, is Renata Tebaldi, Mario Del Monaco is the bandit-in-disguise Dick Johnson (a.k.a. Ramerez) with whom she falls in love much to the consternation of Sherriff Jack Rance sung by Cornell MacNeil, and she saves Ramerez’s life by cheating at poker to “win” him. 

We got a little carried away by overwhelming nostalgia on this week’s Dress Circle (3/10 7:00 p.m.).  While we were planning a previous program, we listened to a cut on a newly acquired CD, and that sent that nostalgia spinning.  The result is this program that looks at some of our musical memories.  Now, these all don’t come from musicals but are pieces that played a role in our childhoods and, often, into our adult lives.  

We’re journeying to Paris for two vastly different works on this week’s Sunday Opera (3/10 3:00 p.m.).  First, we’ll go back to the tenth century as portrayed in an often overlooked opera by Gaetano Donizetti, “Ugo Conte di Parigi.”  Based loosely on the life of Hugo the Great, the opera is yet another story of misplace love, vengeance gone wrong, guilt, and repentance, all the things that make for a good opera libretto!  

Lion or lamb, we’ll be celebrating the month of March on The Dress Circle this week (3/3 7:00 p.m.) with songs from some of the shows that opened in New York this month.  Our earliest show this time comes from 1954 and the Jerome Moross / John Latouche retelling of the “Iliad” and “Odyssey” in “The Golden Apple,” and our most recent show is the stage version of Disney’s “Frozen.” 

Many operas have been based on popular plays, and the comedy on this week’s Sunday Opera (3/3 3:00 p.m.) is an excellent example of when this works to perfection.  The opera is “La Vedova Scaltra” or “The Cunning Widow” by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari with a libretto by Mario Ghisalberti which is based on a play of the same name by Carlo Goldoni.  The fourth of five operas based on Goldoni plays by Wolf-Ferrari, the story centers on a wealthy widow who is wooed by suitors from four different countries (Great Britain, France, Spain, and Italy) and the complications that ensue.  

We’re celebrating black history month on this week’s Dress Circle (2/24 7:00 p.m.) by looking at shows featuring black casts like “Simply Heavenly,” a musical with a book and lyrics by Langston Hughes based on his novel “Simple Takes a Wife” and other “Simple” stories, “Purlie,” a musical based on Ossie Davis’ play “Purlie Victorious,” and “Raisin” based on Lorraine Hansberry’s “Raisin in the Sun.”  

You think that you have relationship issues?  Well, we’re going to be looking at some complicated connections on this week’s Sunday opera (2/24 3:00 p.m.), and then, we’ll have a bit of careless abandon!  We’ll begin with Laurent Petitgirard’s operatic version of “Joseph Merrick the Elephant Man.”  With a book based loosely on the play by Bernard Pomerance by Eric Nonn, the story centers on the life of an extremely deformed man who craves kind human interaction and to live like a “normal man.”  The cast includes Nathalie Stutzmann, Nicolas Rivenq, Robert Breault, and Marie Devellereau with the French Opera Chorus and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo with the composer conducting.  

We lost the dynamo known as Carol Channing on January 15, and on this week’s Dress Circle (2/17 7:00 p.m.), we’ll be paying tribute to her wonderful career.  Channing’s early career was as a model which led to stage work that took her to New York and then L.A..  In L.A., she was hired for a show that took her back to New York, and there she stayed.  We’ll look at some of that early work in shows like 1948’s “Lend an Ear,” 1949’s “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” and 1961’s “Show Girl.”  

“Hamlet” with a happy ending?  Well, sort of… and we’ll hear it on this week’s Sunday Opera (2/17 3:00 p.m.) with Ambroise Thomas’ 1868 operatic version of Shakespeare’s play.  The libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carre, authors of numerous adaptations and opera texts, had the arduous task of shaving down the massive play to mixed reviews – where some critics believe their final product is a concise representation of Shakespeare, others feel that the lack of secondary characters like the gravediggers and the “smoothing” of Shakespeare’s coarse language lessens its impact.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and we’re going to try to get you in the mood on this week’s Dress Circle (2/10 7:00 p.m.) with some love songs, but not just any love songs, we’re turning to the wonderful pairing of Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers for our sources.  

We’re heading to the Cornish coast of England for this week’s Sunday Opera (2/10 3:00 p.m.) and Dame Ethel Smyth’s “The Wreckers.”  Set in an unnamed village in the mid-18th century where the people make their living not through fishing but by scavenging from the ships that are wrecked on their treacherous coastline, the story deals with two moral dilemmas: stopping the carnage of ships and sailors enabled by the village and acting on a forbidden love for another man’s wife.  

There are two givens about the beginning of February: the weather will be inconsistent, but The Dress Circle (2/3 7:00 p.m.) will certainly be consistent as we welcome in the month with some of the shows that opened this month.  We’ll look at 100 years of musicals beginning with Jerome Kern’s “Oh, Boy!”, with a book and lyrics by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse from 1917 through to 2017’s revival of “Sunset Boulevard” by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black, and Christopher Hampton.  

We’ll be traveling into the world of fantasy for this week’s Sunday opera (2/3 3:00 p.m.) with delightful works from Sweden and Germany by two self-taught composers.  We’ll begin with “Duke Magnus and the Mermaid,” an 1867 opera by Ivar Hallstrom whose composing credits are relatively few but important because of his use of Swedish folk music.  

Join Ted Otten and Michael Kownacky as they celebrate the lives and careers of some of the wonderful performers we lost in 2018 on this week’s Dress Circle (1/27 7:00 p.m.).  This is one program we never enjoy planning, but it’s one that we feel compelled to do, and sadly, there were once again far too many to honor in our scant hour program.  Those we’ve chosen include Nanette Fabray, Vic Damone, Tab Hunter, Barbara Harris, and David Ogden Stiers.  

You're invited to a birthday party on this week's Sunday Opera (1/27 3:00 p.m.) as we celebrate number 263 for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  As part of the celebrations that began on Friday, we'll be presenting four hours of his music with the centerpiece being an excellent live 1962 performance of "Le nozzi di Figaro" from Glyndebourne.  Heinze Blankenburg is our cunning Figaro and his charming Susanna, Mirella Freni.  

This week’s Dress Circle (1/20 7:00 p.m.) epitomizes that great television interjection, “But wait!  There’s more!” as we look at some “bonus tracks” from the age of the CD.  With the advent of a CD being able to hold 80 minutes of music, many companies gave us material from cast recordings, film scores, and demo recordings that was never available in the age of 78’s and LP’s.  

Siegfried Wagner’s opera, “Die Heilige Linde,” a 1927 rarity, is the featured work on this week’s Sunday Opera (1/20 3:00 p.m.).  His fourteenth of seventeen operas (if you don’t count “Das Liebesoper” for which there is only a libretto), the work seems to follow in the footsteps of the two men who had the most influence in his life, his teacher, Engelbert Humperdinck and his father, and even though it was completed in 1927, there’s no record of it being performed until 2001.  

We’re shining a spotlight on Welsh actor Jonathan Pryce on this week’s Dress Circle (1/13 7:00 p.m.).  American audiences may know Pryce primarily from his appearance as The Engineer in “Miss Saigon” for which he won a Tony Award or his film appearances as Peron in “Evita,” Sam Lowry in “Brazil.” 

Venetian composer Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari is the featured composer on this week’s Sunday Opera (1/13 3:00 p.m.) as we look at two of his works.  The first is his only example of verismo opera in “The Jewels of the Madonna” which is about the willful Maliella who is loved by two men: her adoptive brother, the gentle blacksmith Gennaro and the blackguard leader of the local Camorristi, Rafael who only wants her because she’s a virgin.  Our cast includes Pauline Tinsley, Peter Glossop, Malcolm King, Andre Turp, and Valerie Cockx.  They’re joined by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of Alberto Erede.  

An afternoon of wonderful melodies will be showcased on this week’s Sunday Opera (1/6 3:00 p.m) when host Michael Kownacky brings you two works by Franz Lehar.  We’ll begin with “Das Land des Lachlens” (“The Land of Smiles”), a romantic operetta which features the very popular song “Das ist mein ganzes herz” (“You Are My Heart’s Delight”).  

2019 is being welcomed in on The Dress Circle (1/6  7:00 p.m.) as we look at some of the shows that opened in New York in January.  We’ll sample songs from hits like “Beautiful The Carole King Musical,” Lynn Arhens and Stephen Flaherty’s “Ragtime,” Charlie Smalls’ “The Wiz,” and George and Ira Gershwin’s “Strike Up the Band” as well as Jerry Herman’s “The Grand Tour,” Albert Hague and Arnold B. Horwitt’s “Plain and Fancy,” and a few other favorites.  If you’re detoxing from the holidays, Broadway musicals are the perfect fit. 

Entering the New Year is a daunting thought for many, but on this week’s Dress Circle (12/30 7:00 p.m.) we’re going to try to help with some words of encouragement from the musicals.  With that in mind, “Don’t Be Anything Less Than Everything You Can Be” because “You Never Know What You Can Do Until You Try.”  “Keep a Stiff Upper Lip” as you “Take the Moment” because “Every Day Comes Something Beautiful.”  “You’ve Got to Look Out for Yourself” and “Keep a Stiff Upper Lip” so that you can “Make Someone Happy.”  Oh, just “Come Out of the Dumpster” and “Get Happy”!

For many, New Year's celebrations include partying and good music.  Well, on this week’s Sunday Opera (12/30 3:00 p.m.), we’ll be supplying a musical soiree with Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” from a recording made in 1960 featuring Waldemar Kmentt as Eisenstein, Hilde Gueden as his wife Rosalinde, Erika Koth as the flighty Adele.  

Oddly enough, it’s Christmas on The Dress Circle this week as well (12/23  7:00 p.m.).  Join Ted Otten and Michael Kownacky for an hour of nostalgic Christmas favorites including a 1953 radio broadcast of “A Christmas Carol” featuring Laurence Olivier as the narrator and Scrooge with an excellent, if unnamed, supporting cast.  Charles Laughton is back by popular demand with his delightful reading of a selection from another Dickens work, “The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club” and the section titled “Mr. Pickwick’s Christmas” recounting a joyous evening of a long-gone era.  

Christmas comes to the Sunday Opera this week (12/23 3:00 p.m.) when Michael Kownacky is presenting two contemporary works based on beloved Christmas stories.  First, we’ll visit George Bailey in Bedford Falls for Jake Heggie’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  With a libretto by Gene Sheer, we’ll follow Clara (Talise Trevigne) as she tries to finally earn her wings by helping Geoge (William Burden) see is true worth.  This tale of redemption also features Andrea Carroll as Mary, Rod Gilfrey as Mr. Gower and Mr. Potter, Joshua Hopkins as Harry, and Anthony Dean Griffey as Uncle Billy.  Patrick Summers leads the Houston Grand Opera Chorus and Orchestra in this recording made in 2017.  

The work of Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson will be showcased on this week’s Dress Circle (12/16 7:00 p.m.) as we look at their musical written with lyricist Tim Rice that mixes personal relationships and political intrigue played against the background of the international chess tournament.  “Chess” began as a concept album in 1984 and made it to the London stage two years later where it stayed until 1989.  It crossed the Atlantic to Broadway in 1987 but had a much shorter stay of only 68 performances.  

We’ll be celebrating two works of Edward German (German Edward Jones) on this week’s Sunday Opera (12/16 3:00 p.m.) with his operas “Merrie England” and “Tom Jones.”  Basil Hood wrote the libretto for the patriotic romance “Merrie England” featuring a romantic rivalry centering around Elizabeth I and Sir Walter Raleigh who was in love with Bessie Throckmorton, one of the queen’s ladies in waiting.  The cast features William McAlpine, June Bronhill, Monica Sinclair, and Peter Glossop.  

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